Mid-size vs. Full size SUV vs. safety?

After 18 years we need to dump her 1999 Suburban $WD for a new SUV. She’s had her eye on a Tahoe vs. a smaller SUV largely because she feels they’re safer. I’m not sold. Sure, physics says the object with the larger mass will win out. But how much of that benefit has been mitigated by a zillion air bags, cameras, sensors, +?

Any opinions here?

Just buy what suits your fancy. There is not enough difference to really worry about.

I guess I’m with you. We have an RDX and couldn’t imagine something even bigger than that. On the other hand the best safety feature of any car is the driver. The object is to avoid accidents, not survive them.

Buy the one she likes best.
Anything you buy will be 1,000 times safer than vehicles were in the ‘60s, and much safer even than your ol’ '99 'Burban. Yup, the technology has made a huge, huge difference.

All true, but larger would be safer, I assume all else being equal (both modern vehicles, both vehicles have airbags, etc.). If I had to be in an 18 model Tahoe running into an 18 model Civic, I’d rather be in the Tahoe. I’d really rather be in neither, of course, but most people don’t plan on having an accident.

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I agree with the others, she doesn’t need a Tahoe for safety. This web site combines test data with an adjustment for vehicle mass to come up with safety ratings. Some of the best for 2018 include the Acura RDX and MDX, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Tucson, and the Kia Sorento. The Tahoe scores poorly because of its low score in the NHTSA rollover test.

Person decides to not purchase vehicle they really liked and buys something else thinking it might ( only having the same accident in the two different vehicles would verify that ). I can assure you that any small rattle, drivability problem , or warranty corrected item will be perceived 10 times as annoying as it really is.

She might avoid an accident in a more nimble vehicle, so that’s a consideration.

Personally, I’d avoid a tiny car for safety reasons, but anything mid-size and up is safe enough for me.

Thanks for the feedback. It all makes sense. I do appreciate that link to the top 1%.


Bigger is safer. The tests evaluate what happens if a vehicle meets an identical vehicle on the road. A small car can get a five star rating and still be crushed by a truck that is two or three times the weight. High center of gravity is always an issue with SUVs. If you and your wife drive defensively, anything will work because the chance of you being in an accident are extremely small. Still, the full size SUV will almost always have less damage if an accident does occur. If you want a full size SUV, look at other manufacturers. This is not a knock on Chevrolet or GMC, but a suggestion to make an informed decision about vehicles in the class you want to buy I think Ford has a new Expedition this year. Note that the Tahoe is a truck based SUV, and will not handle as well or ride as well as a unibody SUV.

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If you are looking for safety, the rollover risks of suvs and pickups make them more likely to kill their occupant than sedans or minivans.
People are not always rational about safety. After I retired I spent 15 years as a school bus driver. I was always amused by the number of people who would pick up their children in bad weather. Children who usually rode the bus. Statistically, school buses are 13 times safer than cars. I suspect the difference is even greater in bad weather.

All things being equal, bigger is safer. I believe the NHSTA site had also mentioned this in the disclaimer on the car test results. But then how big are you gonna go? Get an 18 wheeler?
So I think you should get something that meets her needs and she likes and call it a day.

The driver is more important. My wife has been driving for a few years but for my newer driver daughter I was a bit worried. So, we didn’t go with a hand me down beater with no safety features, neither did we get the tinniest car on the market. We went with something in the middle. Anything larger would had been difficult for her to handle, wiping all the size related safety.

Given that her current bias is towards the Tahoe (not having driven any newer SUV since her '99 Burb, I think we’ll visit the Tahoe, Traverse and Sante Fe (Sport). Maybe we can narrow that down from 3 to 2 after the first visit then see about taking each SUV home overnight for some meaningful test driving.

I’d include parallel parking as part of that test drive.

Disagree (partially). I agree that avoiding accidents is of primary importance, but surviving them is also important. Remember that we don’t plan accidents. That’s why we call them accidents. If we planned them they would be called intentionals.

There are three functional developments of the human brain; the reptilian, the limbic and finally the cortex. Your wife is using the reptilian part that equates size to safety. You’re attempting to argue the logic of it using your cortex. The cortex almost never wins against the reptilian… depending on how deep the desire is, you may convince her otherwise but it isn’t likely to be durable.

As your physicist, I advise you to listen to jtsanders and galant. All else being equal, just for safety in collisions, bigger is better.
Now, I had a Tahoe and got rid of it. This was based on other considerations like comfort, gas mileage, etc. So what are you priorities?

All cars are much safer today than your old Suburban. There are even videos of a small car colliding with a large SUV and the small car stayed intact.

Your ability to control the vehicle has considerable bearing on whether you can stay OUT of trouble. My wife has a Mazda3 Sport and would be lost trying to drive a Suburban.

I’ve learned enough now (reading and here) to know, given the SUV’s she’d consider, she’ll be just fine. It’s her car. I plan on taking a backseat and just facilitating her decision.

Which Traverse? The 2017 is a lot bigger than the 2018. My favorite in the GM family that includes the 2017 Traverse is the Buick Enclave. I think it’s more comfortable than the Traverse and a lot quieter.